Why Your Body Needs Sleep
“WHAT I would give for a good night’s sleep!” That complaint is common these days. Many people constantly push themselves, and the daily stress and tension of modern life takes its toll.
Doctors, police officers, fire fighters, truck drivers, workers on rotating shifts, mothers with young children, and many others are among those who are vulnerable to being robbed of the sleep their bodies need. The millions of people who experience the frustrations associated with lack of sleep are keenly interested in knowing how to get sound, refreshing sleep.
The Role of Sleep
Sleep, or at least a period of rest, seems to be universal among living creatures. If you have had pets such as cats, dogs, or birds, you have no doubt observed that cats and dogs regularly curl up and drop off to sleep and that birds become quiet and go to sleep when darkness comes. Just about all animals, birds, and insects have a need for sleep, or at least periods of reduced activity. For humans, sleep is an absolute must.
Some people think sleep is simply a period of rest. But it is more than that. “Sleep is actually a complicated process of muscles tensing and relaxing, pulse and blood pressure rising and falling and the mind churning out its own home movies,” says The Toronto Star. “When a person falls asleep,” states The World Book Encyclopedia, “all activity decreases and the muscles relax. The heartbeat and breathing rate slow down.”
Although scientists, doctors, and researchers have studied sleep for many decades, basic mysteries remain about its vital role. These investigators have not even discovered what sleep actually is or why we sleep. Says Dr. Eliot Phillipson of the sleep research laboratory at Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital: “We don’t know the critical biological events that occur in sleep that restore us.”
During sleep, changes occur in the body that affect our immune system. Body parts relax and get rest, counteracting the wear and tear of the day’s activity. The general clean-up work carried on through the bloodstream operates efficiently, and the chemical balance is restored. So sleep may be compared to a night crew that comes in to get things repaired and cleaned up for the next day.
One of the most important functions of sleep is to allow the nervous system to recuperate from its use during the day. As The World Book Encyclopedia says, “sleep restores energy to the body, particularly to the brain and nervous system.”
How Much Sleep?
Most adults need seven or eight hours of sleep every night. Some require less, others more. There are some who say that they do reasonably well on four or five hours, though some of them may take naps during the day. Infants need much more sleep than adults.
Particularly when people get older, they may find that they awaken several times during the night. Some may feel that this is a sign of the onset of serious sleep problems. However, while older people may not have the same quality of sleep that they did when they were younger, experiments have shown that waking up a few times during the night is not a cause for alarm. Usually, the waking time for most who do this is brief, perhaps only a few minutes, before they fall asleep again.
No matter what one’s age is, though, one should not expect to have the same soundness of sleep all night. Sleep works in cycles of deeper sleep alternating with lighter sleep. In the course of a night, a person may have a number of these cycles.
Dangers From Lack of Sleep
“Researchers are becoming increasingly concerned about the number of people who get far too little sleep. Chronic lack of sleep, they warn, can have dire consequences both for ourselves and the people around us,” reports The Toronto Star.
“People deprived of sleep lose energy and become quick-tempered. After two days without sleep, a person finds that lengthy concentration becomes difficult. . . . Many mistakes are made, especially in routine tasks, and attention slips at times. . . . People who go without sleep for more than three days have great difficulty thinking, seeing, and hearing clearly. Some have periods of hallucinations, during which they see things that do not really exist,” relates The World Book Encyclopedia.
Tests have found that after four days of sleeplessness, a test subject could perform only a few routine tasks. Those tasks requiring attention or even minimum mental agility became unbearable. Loss of concentration and mental agility were not the worst factors. After four and a half days, there were signs of delirium, and the person’s visual world became quite grotesque.
Lack of sleep can lead to major problems. More than one sleepy person has fallen asleep at the wheel while driving a car and has become involved in a fatal accident. Sleeplessness can also lead to family and marriage problems, since persistent lack of sleep makes one more irritable and harder to get along with. Getting a good night’s sleep is more important than some may realize.
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep specialist Dr. Jeffrey J. Lipsitz of the Sleep Disorders Centre of Metropolitan Toronto suggests the following for getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep in secure, quiet, dark surroundings and on a comfortable bed. Do not nap late in the day, even if you slept poorly the night before; try to stay awake and to go to bed at your usual time. Avoid caffeine before bedtime. Do not use the bed for reading or watching TV. Avoid heavy exercise and large meals just before bedtime. Maintain regular sleeping hours, as this will help the body acquire a constant sleep-wake rhythm.
Get into the routine of winding down before you go to bed. Avoid doing things that may tend to get you wound up and wider awake. For instance, avoid exciting movies, TV programs, or reading material. Having stimulating discussions just before going to bed may also tend to keep you awake.
For some, taking a warm (not hot) bath or reading light material that is not stimulating is helpful. So may be sleep-inducing helps, such as warm milk, buttermilk, a little wine, or herb teas of hops, mint, or chamomile—but not teas with caffeine.
It is generally agreed, however, that just winding down before going to bed may not be enough in itself. A sound, balanced life with regular exercise and that is free from the anxieties and frustrations caused by greed, jealousy, hostility, and ambition contributes to the ability to get a good night’s sleep. So does a life free from overindulgence in food and drink and a life free from the unhappiness caused by immorality.
Satisfying our spiritual need can play an important role in getting sound, restful sleep. It will help us to understand the complex world in which we live and to pursue a balanced, satisfying way of life. A wise servant of God encourages us to develop insight and to hold on to the wisdom of Jehovah, for this will lead to “a pleasant and happy life.” Then he adds: “You will not be afraid when you go to bed, and you will sleep soundly through the night.”—Proverbs 3:21-24, Today’s English Version.
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Most adults need seven or eight hours of sleep every night
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Chronic lack of sleep can have dire consequences
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Many people have great difficulty falling asleep